Writing blogs about matters of faith may create an image in the mind of readers of someone constantly taken up with the great teachings of Christianity, while leading a life of disciplined piety and virtue.
I’m not like that at all, especially as regards virtue; and it may be useful for readers if I ask myself how excatly my faith touches my day-to-day living.
Although I continue to work part-time as a minister in three beautiful parishes in rural Angus, I have much more time for myself and my family than I had when I was working full-time. I have time to reflect and study, and enjoy these so much that I recognise the role of scholar to be a calling for which I am temperamentally suited and might have followed, had I not been called to another role. You might think that I therefore delight in the solitude that study requires, but in fact, although I do enjoy quietness, my study reminds me every day of the most important connections of my life, with other people, other creatures and the world.
The study of the Bible for example, would be impossible without the work of the biblical authors themselves and the thousands of scribes and scholars who have worked on these texts. I am aware that prior to the invention of printing in the 14th century all Biblical texts were copied by hand, mainly by monks and nuns. Again in recent weeks I have used the biblical insights of Greek-speaking believers who wrote in the 4th – 7th centuries of our era. Their lives were very different from mine but they have much to teach me. And if those connections sound a wee bit pretentious, my family are always present with their love and brutality to keep my feet on the ground.
Beyond my desk and my house, I have pastoral responsibilities, visiting the sick and bereaved which make the church community real to me, as I give what I can, and receive what my fellow believers give to me; for this is not a one-directional ministry, but a way of sharing, sometimes happily, sometimes sorrowfully, in the daily bread God sends.
I also remain connected to the politics of Scotland, the U.K. and the world. Some years ago I left the Labour Party and joined the SNP because I hoped it would gain independence for Scotland and open our national life to a new politics free of the malign influence of conservative England. It hasn’t quite worked out the way I hoped, making me now a vocal critic of an SNP that desperately hopes we will not be independent too soon, and which has become a political establishment in its turn. St Augustine confessed that in his youth he used to pray, ” Lord, give me chastity….but not yet.” Unlike most people perhaps, I have a high regard for those people who give themselves to political life, and value my distant connections with them.
Every day I spend some time running, walking or cycling near my home in Monifieth, making my way perhaps to the Sidlaw Hills, or the farmlands of Angus, or the beaches of the Tay estuary. Over years of doing this I have become a reasonably well- informed watcher of fauna, and a still poorly – informed watcher of flora. I have a sketchy grasp of geology, geography and history. All of these, with the recent vital addition of ecology inform my connections with the natural world, which never ceases to delight me with its familiar routines and to disturb me with its frequent surprises. Only the other day I watched the estuarine crows demonstrating their mastery of dropping shellfish from a height on to the promenade, so that they could consume them, a technique they’ve copied from the gulls. Recently too I’ve taken to looking carefully at the ordinary sands of the beaches, sometimes photographing patches that interest me. Here are tiny bits of the natural world: sands which are the result of the erosion of mountains upstream, deposited in the estuary; pebbles freed from conglomerate rocks and sculpted by the sea; the ogygen bubbles of many tiny creatures, the shells and skeletons of larger ones; all marked by the daily ebb and flow of the tides. Perhaps a whole lifetime of study would not exhaust the information contained in one square foot of beach.
Finally there are the powerful connections made through music, visual arts, and books read for pleasure. What would my life be without links to Bob Dylan and Jordi Savall, to Bach and Bob Marley, to Shakespeare, Dante and James Kelman?
These are vital connections all of which bid me open my mind and heart to what is not me, to permit myself to be part of a network of lives and their environment, so that although I can still say “I”, I am also learning all the time more of what it means to say “We”. I become aware of how much of me is contributed by the rest of the world, and how my actions impact on that world. To me this is what it means to live in the communion or partnership of the Holy Spirit. Of course, the prompting of that Spirit also reveals to me how reluctant I am to open up in any way that serves justice or demands sacrifice. This persistent wrongness will be the subject of my next blog on this site.